Skip to main content

The America's Cup Trust

How to permanently fix the America’s Cup
AdobeStock_138119729-600x

I am writing this a few days before Christmas in the awful Plague Year of 2020 and am marveling at the great Double Alignment. Can it be mere coincidence that the two largest planets in our solar system came into their closest conjunction since 1623 in the very same week that our two greatest sailing events, the Vendée Globe and the America’s Cup, likewise aligned, with the Vendée fleet streaming south of New Zealand just as the first races of the AC36 cycle were run in Auckland harbor?

Slaughter the goats! Cast their entrails! Great things are happening!

One nice and potentially great thing I noticed watching coverage of the AC’s so-called Christmas Cup was that the New York Yacht Club seemed quite competitive. Perhaps by now (fingers crossed) they have risen to challenge Team New Zealand in the Cup final this month. This would be most auspicious, of course, as it was the New York YC that started this whole mess we call the America’s Cup in the first place.

It is common for aficionados to urge that America’s Cup racing “must return to its roots,” by which they normally mean racing in generally similar, fairly slow monohulls like 12-Metres or IACC boats. But let’s be honest. The true roots of Cup racing involve a bunch of really rich guys with big egos sailing around in super-expensive, often weird machines while madly arguing with each other.

This has made for some fine spectacle—on the racecourse, in the press and occasionally in courtrooms. However, it also makes the event inherently unstable. Professional sailors have long bemoaned this, hoping instead to regularize things, so that Cup cycles can occur as predictably as planetary gyrations. One can argue about whether this is actually desirable, but if it is, there is, I submit, one way to solve the problem.

The Cup’s fatal flaw is found—where else?—in the Deed of Gift. This establishes a trust wherein the Defender of the Cup serves as trustee and largely controls competition. You don’t really have to go to law school to see the contradiction here. You can simply look up “trustee” in the dictionary: a person who holds and manages property in trust for the benefit of others. The notion of a trust wherein the trustee (the Defender) regularly competes with the trust’s putative beneficiaries (the challengers and racing sailors generally) for the corpus of the trust (the Cup) is, on its face, a legal absurdity. I am amazed the several judges who have heard America’s Cup litigation over the years have never remarked on this.

Little wonder then that much of the history of the Cup has consisted of defenders fixing the rules so as to favor themselves. The first and arguably worst offender was the New York Yacht Club itself. Its “longest winning streak in sports” certainly was not the product of 132 years of faultless sportsmanship. It would be very appropriate then, were the NYYC to win again, if it applied to the New York courts to have the Deed of Gift amended. Instead of defending the Cup, for example, the club might ask to be appointed as a permanent, truly impartial trustee, forever barred from competing, but charged with organizing and conducting future racing so as to adhere to the deed’s original principles.

A new regime like this could easily address the many problems that have long plagued Cup racing, holding events on a regular schedule with much more certainty as to the types of vessels to be raced, while also preserving those same things that make the Cup unique and prestigious. Of course, the NYYC itself need not win the Cup for this to happen. Any winning club, or perhaps merely a collection of interested clubs, might petition to reform the deed and have a permanent trustee appointed. That said, I believe the NYYC, in the end, is the most appropriate body to fill that role, given the Cup’s origins and history.

Could this ever really happen? Could the really rich guys with big egos who like to sail around in super-expensive boats and argue with each other ever agree to participate in such a rationally organized event? Or is this just a rhetorical question? Time will tell. 

February/March 2021

Related

00-LEAD-210918_11HR_AZIMUT48HRS_AMO_00411

11th Hour Racing Team's Green Mission

“I’ll admit, it’s still hard to watch the boat leave the dock sometimes,” says former Volvo Ocean Race sailor Mark Towill. Since meeting during a Transpac campaign over 15 years ago, he and his teammate Charlie Enright have sailed thousands of miles together aboard two Volvo ...read more

D61_JKELAGOPIAN-3

Boat Review: Dufour 61

Dufour, long one of France’s most well-respected builders, has been producing sailboats in La Rochelle since the dawn of fiberglass boatbuilding. Having recently merged with another La Rochelle-based builder, Fountaine Pajot, Dufour has now joined other European mass-production ...read more

m138123_14_00_210609_TORE02_SE_2152_2504-2048x

The Ocean Race to be “Climate Positive”

The 2023 Ocean Race intends to be one of the world’s first climate positive sporting events, offsetting more greenhouse gasses than are produced. The two-fold effort means cutting emissions by 75 percent and investing in ocean projects that sequester carbon and restore ocean ...read more

01-LEAD-Ancients-3-2048x

Cruising Lake Superior

Almost anywhere a sailor drops the hook someone else has been there before. We are hardly ever the first. That remote Maine harbor without a soul in sight: there’s a lobster trap. The south coast of Newfoundland: the crumbling remains of a fisherman’s cabin lie hidden among the ...read more

01-LEAD-Tablet-Holder-4

Fabricating a Tablet Holder

During the pandemic, I was stuck aboard Guiding Light, a Lagoon 410, in St. Lucia for over a month. During that time, as I worked on the boat, I started by doing a spring cleaning in my spares locker and finding some parts and material that I forgot I had. As soon as I saw them, ...read more

00-LEAD-AdobeStock_486335954

A Catamaran for a New Era

Anacortes, Washington, is an unassuming sea-salty town near the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound, and the Betts Boats yard is easy for a passerby to miss. But within Betts’ facilities, the dawn of an era in Pacific Northwest production boatbuilding could be breaking with the ...read more

X5_plus_slide-01

Boat Review: Xquisite X5 Plus

The Xquisite X5 Plus is a major update of the boat that SAIL awarded Best Large Multihull and Best Systems titles in 2017. The changes were not just cosmetic, but genuine improvements to an already fine boat, making it lighter, faster and less dependent on fuel. The builder’s ...read more

01-LEAD-AdobeStock_40632434

Cruising: Offshore Prep Talk

When I began preparing Minx, my 1987 Pearson 39-2, for extended Caribbean cruising, I had to balance my champagne wish list against my beer budget. Every buck spent on the boat before leaving would be one less frosty can of Carib down in the islands. On the other hand, I had to ...read more